TIKRIT, Iraq —After three years of attending a military high school in Peru and spending a year in college for dentistry, 2nd Lt. Aldo Grados of Ica, Peru, decided to join the Peruvian navy. He was 16.
"I was very young when I joined the naval academy, actually," he said. "I went to the academy for five years and on [Dec. 22, 1999] I graduated. I was close to 21. It was a very good experience."
"The years that I started in the military back in Peru were in a way the United States calls 'old school,'" he added. "The discipline [was] very, very strict and loyalty [was] one of the basic values that they [taught] you back there. If you [weren't] loyal to your peers, then that meant you [weren't] loyal to anybody not even to yourself."
Grados' path to the U.S. was one built by intrigue and opportunity. As an officer in Peru, Grados was afforded the privilege of attaining an international visa which gave him the chance to work in many different countries.
After working for nine months on a boat that traveled from the east coast of the United States to England, France and South America, Grados decided to take a vacation to Los Angeles.
"I'd never been [there before]," he said.
"I had some family over there and man, it was amazing," Grados said. "I felt more freedom and that made me fall in love with [this country]. I mean I could have everything that I never had before. I'd hear [people] talk about high school and hanging out with [girls] and they would go to these parties with girls, and I was like, I was in a military high school where there were no girls. Then, they'd go to college and start talking about their senior year, and I would be like, I was in the naval academy."
After spending time in the U.S., Grados went back to Peru to inform the Peruvian navy of his decision to become a civilian and start making a living in the U.S.
"My contract was almost done with the Peruvian navy by then," said Grados. "They wanted me to reenlist when I went back to Peru, but I talked with my uncles who were in the Peruvian navy as well and they [had] a lot of influence; so, I told them that I didn't want to continue.
"They told me OK, you can get out, but you will get out without benefits and you will leave with the rank that you have right now which back then at that time I was supposed to be a [captain] but they just let me go as a [first lieutenant]."
In 2006, Grados got tired of the civilian life and enlisted into the U.S. Navy. While in the Navy, Grados got his U.S. citizenship and submitted a packet to become an officer.
Instead of going to Officer Candidate School for the Navy, Grados attended OCS to become an officer for the Army in January of 2009 where he also met his wife.
"We have plans to see what happens. If everything goes right and we follow the track, we'll be OK. Sometimes you have to put the balance between your family and work," he said.
Grados plans to join the Special Forces and make a career out of the military. He also wants to someday write a book about his experiences.
"You should never stop dreaming. A dream is beautiful because it can come true," Grados said. "Look at me; I'm living my dream right now."
This work, A patriot of two countries, by SGT Shantelle Campbell, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.